Introducing the Rural Community Vitality Measurement Initiative

by Rural Ontario Institute 15. April 2015 11:21

We are pleased to share an exciting new project endeavour. Beginning in May 2015, we will be leading the Rural Community Vitality Measurement Initiative.

Funded by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, this announcement represents a 30-month applied research and analysis initiative focused on deepening understanding of effective practices for quantifying rural civic engagement, social capital and community well-being. The initiative will also demonstrate methods for municipal evaluation of community impacts and social return on investment.

The viability and economic success of small towns and rural communities is closely related to a number of intangible factors which are hard to measure but integral to municipal functions. The overarching goal of the initiative is to assist rural stakeholders by undertaking projects which enable information sharing, capture practitioner insights and lessons learned, and facilitate peer exchange of best practices surrounding these hard to measure aspects.

The initiative includes seven research and knowledge transfer projects grouped under three themes. The projects will commence in May 2015 and conclude by August 2017.

Theme: Rural Municipal Leadership – Succession Planning
-Rural Councillor Profile
-Youth Civic Engagement Showcase

Theme: Showcasing Effective Measurement Approaches
-Tracking Citizen Participation and Engagement: Best Practice Resource
-Rural Case Studies of Social Return on Investment and Community Impact

Theme: Rural Quality of life and Community Well-being
-Rural Well-Being Reporting: Demonstration Project 
-Small Area Data Guide as related to the Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheet series
-Rural Foresight Papers

As a first step, we are currently seeking a Project Manager. Please see the job posting and description for details.

We are looking forward to engaging stakeholder organizations and collaborating with key partners on each of the above projects. If you are interested in the above themes and projects and would like to learn more, please comment here or contact Norman Ragetlie, Director, Policy and Stakeholder Engagement.


11 more Ontario municipalities to receive community transportation funding

by Rural Ontario Institute 14. April 2015 10:14

With the goal of improving transportation for youth, seniors and persons living with disabilities, Ontario has announced a new pilot grant program. As you know, 11 municipalities were selected in March 2015 to receive up to $100,000 to provide better transportation services through community resources.

As of yesterday we are pleased to share the news that an additional 11 municipalities have been selected to receive funding. The communities of Dryden, Temiskaming Shores, Muskoka, White River, Waterloo, York Region, Caledon, Peel, Hamilton, Northumberland and Lennox-Addington will be receiving up to $100,000 for their respective projects.

“The government of Ontario is happy to help municipalities provide more transportation options to their residents. Our transportation investments like the Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program help build stronger communities by helping residents stay connected to their communities and maintain an active lifestyle,” says Steve Del Duca, Minister of Transportation. 

Please click here to view the Ministry of Transportation news release and to learn more about the selected projects. 


Employment of rural youth in Ontario

by Rural Ontario Institute 13. April 2015 15:57

This commentary is related to the Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheets about youth employment. It is provided by Carol Simpson, Executive Director, Workplace Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin.

From a Workplace Planning Board perspective, I am interested in the Rural Ontario Institute’s Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheet series.

Given our understanding of local data, somewhat surprisingly, despite increasing population growth in the 15 to 24 year old age categories, their labour force growth is not keeping pace.  Over the past year, we have seen unemployment rates among this age group drop as the number of young workers finding employment continues to rise. E.g. in the metro area of Waterloo Region, the number of young workers joining the labour force from January 2014 to January 2015 increased by only 1000, while 4000 more were employed in the same period. This is putting a strain on the already tight job market in the area.

Access to the Youth Employment Fund, provided through the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, over the past year and a half may have had a significant impact, enabling young people to access employment opportunities by providing wage supports to employers who hired them.  It will be interesting to see if the discontinuation of this program impacts youth employment rates in a negative fashion over the next few months.

In some non-metro parts of my area, youth participation rates continue to decline, perhaps due to youth becoming disengaged from the labour force. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of a rural business rotating through the local youth population several times but they are not able to retain these young workers initially. When these young workers come back later, realizing that this was actually a good opportunity, in many instances they find the doors closed on them. With few other local opportunities they lose interest and stop looking for work. Businesses may have to reconsider not rehiring formerly unsuccessful young workers, when they re-enter the workforce at some later stage, in order to meet their labour demands.

With many non-metro region populations struggling to maintain and/or grow their labour force, youth re-engagement and youth retention are forefront in many workforce development strategies and initiatives across my area and other parts of Ontario.


Ontario municipalities to receive community transportation funding

by Rural Ontario Institute 18. March 2015 13:27

With the goal of improving transportation for youth, seniors and persons living with disabilities, Ontario has announced a new pilot grant program. As of today, 11 municipalities have been selected to receive up to $100,000 to provide better transportation services through community resources.

The communities of Atikokan, Terrace Bay, Papineau-Cameron, Haliburton, Black River-Matheson, Grey, Tillsonburg, Georgina, Simcoe, Pelham and Prescott & Russell will be receiving funding for their respective projects.

“The government of Ontario is committed to ensuring better access to transportation services for all residents, so that they can stay connected to their communities and maintain an active lifestyle. Our transportation investments like the Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program help build stronger communities,” says Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation.

Ministry of Transportation news release is available here.

More information on the selected municipalities is available here.


Town of Minto Awarded Bronze Designation as part of Walk Friendly Ontario

by Rural Ontario Institute 15. January 2015 13:30

The following is a guest blog from Belinda Wick-Graham, Business & Economic Development Manager, Town of Minto. 

On December 3, 2014 the Town of Minto was awarded a bronze designation as part of the Walk Friendly Ontario recognition program. This program works to “encourage municipalities to create and improve spaces and places to walk”.

The Town of Minto is a small rural municipality with a population of approximately 9,000 people spread amongst the communities of Clifford, Harriston, Palmerston and the former Minto Township and has been actively involved in developing a Walkable Community since 2005 and actually presented at the Walk21 International Conference on Walkability, which was held in Toronto in 2007.

Some of the initiatives that have been undertaken in Minto include:

-Touring other walkable neighbourhoods and bringing some of these sustainability guidelines back to Minto in the form of a Sustainable Community Guidelines for Development & Developers that was unanimously approved by Council.

- The Council of the Town of Minto has signed and supports the International Charter for walking.

- We have worked with University of Guelph Masters’ students to identify potential trail linkages and communicate with local landowners to determine a route.

- 3rd Year University of Guelph Landscape Architecture students were engaged to develop streetscape ideas that improved walking and cycling, these ideas then fed into a downtown Streetscape Plan that was unanimously approved and implemented by Council. This includes the development and creation of several public spaces in the downtown core.

- Minto is a key member of the Wellington County Active Transportation Plan process that links all 7 municipalities and the County to 49 trails/routes that connect into Wellington County and we have supported the development of trail signage standards and interpretive signage standards.

Walkable Communities are a key component of the Town of Minto Strategic Plan. We all know the health benefits of walking and we want to make it easy and enjoyable for our residents to be physically active but there are also numerous economic benefits associated with walkable communities.

a.      Higher Housing Values

b.      Attracting New Economy Workers

c.       Attracting Tourists

d.      Businesses are Relocating to Walkable Communities

e.      Walkability assists Retail Markets and Downtowns

Today more than at any other time in history, thanks largely to technology people are choosing where they want to live over where they are going to work. In Minto we are trying to build a community that has a strong quality of life, and building a walkable community is part of that. Generally, communities that are safe, attractive, environmentally sound, diverse

and culturally rich are not only desirable places to live, but tend to thrive economically.

It is no longer good enough to have decent infrastructure (roads, water, and sewer). Solid infrastructure is important, but if we don’t provide that quality of life element we will quickly see our population decline and we will not be able to afford to pay for that infrastructure.  This is one of the reasons why the Town of Minto invests in building a Walkable Community. The Walk Friendly Ontario designation will be used to not only expand and improve our efforts but to promote our community.




Ministry of Education Proposes Major Changes to School Closure Processes

by Rural Ontario Institute 10. December 2014 12:59

Major changes have been quietly proposed in the Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines (PARG) that the Ministry of Education sets as the minimum standards which school boards must follow when considering closing schools. The extremely limited timeline for commenting on these proposed changes suggests the Ministry is not prepared to have an extended public discussion about this even though many rural stakeholders would likely be concerned about the potential impact of the changes especially for communities that have only a single school. See for example all the work of the Community Schools Alliance which argued strenuously for more flexibility in those circumstances.

The new proposed guidelines would actually remove consideration of the community impacts from the purview of the reviews and reduce public meeting requirements.

Strangely, the unseemly haste with this consultation appears at odds with the mandate letters to the Ministers of Education and Municipal Affairs and Housing which included the development of policy regarding the role schools could play as community hubs. Developing schools as community hubs implies processes to form partnerships and innovation for collaborative use of school buildings with a combination of public benefit uses. It seems a reasonable way to ensure important community assets remain viable and contribute to community well-being and especially relevant where there may be a single school in the community and declining enrollment. Shouldn’t the new guidelines encourage Accommodation Review processes to consider these types of outcomes and not just narrow the scope of the review process to student achievement as now proposed? Perhaps the Ministry should consider this.

The consultation document can be found here on the People for Public Education website which also includes a good summary of the changes:

Likewise, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is informing its members of the proposed changes because of the impact on municipal representation in the process. 

The Ministry is accepting feedback until December 18 2014 and suggesting the proposed Guidelines would become effective in January 2015. Feedback can be sent to:


Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Announced

by Rural Ontario Institute 26. November 2014 10:42

The following guest blog is provided by the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat.

The Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat has launched the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant program and will be accepting applications through Grants Ontario until Friday January 30, 2015, at 5:00pm (EST). All project activity must be completed by March 31, 2017.  Priority will be given to projects that target small municipalities and communities with diverse populations, and those in rural and remote areas of Ontario. Priority will also be given to communities that have not yet begun age-friendly community planning work or do not have a local age-friendly action plan. With an investment of $1.5 million over two-years, the program will support strategic planning activities that make communities more age-friendly, helping seniors contribute to all aspects of community life.  See the News Release and Backgrounder for further information. 

The funding levels for the grant program are based on population size:

•          Up to $25,000 for small communities (under 20,000 residents)

•          Up to $35,000 for medium-sized communities (20,000 to 99,999 residents)

•          Up to $50,000 for larger communities (more than 100,000 residents).




Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program Announced

by Rural Ontario Institute 26. November 2014 10:31

This guest blog has been provided by the Ministry of Transportation

The Ministry of Transportation is pleased to announce the launch of the Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program.  With this grant program, we invite municipalities across the Province to work with local community organizations to propose community transportation projects.  The Ministry is making available $1 million over two years to assist communities in improving transportation options and access through the coordination of services and the sharing of transportation resources.  Grant applications will be accepted until January 30, 2015, 5:00 pm EST.

More information can be found in the News Release - English and News Release - French and details of the grant program, eligibility requirements, and the application form are available at the Ministry of Transportation website.



Funding available to train front line staff in critical areas of the law

by Rural Ontario Institute 20. November 2014 10:37

This blog is provided by Vivien Green, Project Manager Connecting Communities, Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

Strengthening Linkages between legal and community services 

Low-income rural residents find themselves talked into expensive energy contracts and have no one to ask about their legality or how to get out of them. Migrant farm workers are not paid the wages they're legally entitled to and are afraid to complain.  These scenarios illustrate situations that pose challenges for people who face barriers to accessible legal information and services. While these are specific circumstances, there are many others which may affect a broad cross-section of individuals in rural Ontario, such as family law, tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities and workplace safety. 

To help address barriers in accessing legal help, Connecting Communities is an initiative funded by The Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) that helps agencies train their front line staff in critical areas of the law.  

The goals of Connecting Communities are to increase the capacity of community workers to better understand the law and secondly, to build stronger connections between legal and community services. We know that it is difficult, if not impossible to take advantage of the protections that the law offers to individuals, families and communities.  

Through Connecting Communities, organizations are able to apply for funding for training projects to help front line workers and community leaders learn about the law.  With this training, workers can help community members be able to recognize their legal rights and know how and where to get appropriate legal services. The training is targeted to workers in immigrant communities, rural or remote communities. 

Since Connecting Communities was initiated in 2010, 15 Connecting Projects have been funded. 

Examples include:

1. The Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc. - a range of  front-line service providers received training in four rural communities  on consumer protection issues commonly faced by people

2. Equay-Wuk Women’s Group, located in Sioux Lookout was funded to provide training in criminal and family law to community workers and women elders from 31 remote and fly-in First Nations communities across Northwestern Ontario. 

How Connecting Communities works

* A small staff team provides outreach and support to agencies to transform ideas into training proposals

* Activities are guided by an Advisory Committee comprised of people with expertise in public legal education and members of the target communities. 

* Final funding decisions are made by the Law Foundation of Ontario 

For more information or if you are interested in developing a legal information training project, please contact Vivien Green, Project Manager: or 416.408.4420 ext 835


A Rural Nurse Speaks Out

by Rural Ontario Institute 11. November 2014 14:28

This is a guest blog from Shirley Roebuck, R.N.

From 1972 to 2009, I earned my living as a registered nurse. I worked in large tertiary care centers in Toronto and worked as an RN in a small rural hospital in Wallaceburg, ON.

The two working experiences are quite different, and also surprisingly quite similar. In large tertiary care hospitals, like Toronto General Hospital or St. Michael's Hospital, there is access to world class medical therapies and expert personnel to help provide patient care. In small rural hospitals, you have the support of colleagues and access to basic health care therapies to help provide patient care. Both situations have the same priority: to provide appropriate care to the patient.

For over 20 years, our political leaders have been attempting to downsize small rural hospitals, and regionalize health care in larger centers. Small community hospitals have seen their beds cut and their services eliminated or moved to larger centers. They are a shell of what they used to be, and are able to support larger community hospitals or big city hospitals to a much lesser degree. Thus there is a back-up of care at all levels: small rural hospitals, larger community hospitals and big city hospitals.

Remedies that are often touted as replacements (community care vs hospital care) are not totally effective. There is no doubt that better primary care can result in fewer hospital admissions, better preventative care and early detection and treatment. But these do not provide the range of services that a local hospital provides.Closing and cutting small local hospitals in an effort to decrease hospital admissions and cut beds more deeply than anywhere else in Canada means that Ontarians are not receiving the services or time in hospital that is needed to assure a successful discharge to the community. Repeat visits to the Emergency Department and repeat admissions are rising. People are developing more health problems while in hospital, and patient outcomes are worse. 

Ontario needs its health care to be grounded in sound hospital care planning. Despite decades of claims by Health Ministers that care is being moved to the community, “community services” remains a vague term, and can mean different things. It can mean increased home care services, it can mean fragmented health services provided by different providers/agencies or it can mean private for profit clinics. It can mean waiting at home on a waiting list with no help at all. It almost always means less care and less publicly-funded coverage for patients. 

There are alternate solutions to improve Ontario’s health care system, including partnerships between small and rural community hospitals and tertiary care hospitals, offering expert acute care through our world class tertiary care centers, and recovery close to home, provided by competent and familiar health care providers.

The cost savings of closing/downsizing rural hospitals have never been proven. As a nurse, I see every day how budget cuts have downloaded costs and stress onto patients and their families who struggle to travel further for care or go without, putting their health in jeopardy. As a nurse who has worked in the largest tertiary care hospitals in Canada and in a small community hospital, I cannot believe that it is cheaper to run services in specialist- and technology-driven large hospitals. 

For these reasons and more, I believe in the importance of rural hospitals to the Ontario landscape. 

Shirley Roebuck, R.N.

Resources are available here